Daily Archives: December 11, 2010

‘Dracula in charge of the blood bank’: Corporate junk-food giant McDonald’s to assist government in devising public health strategy

Daily Mail | Dec 10, 2010

By Jenny Hope

Invited to the table: Burger giant McDonald's will assist the government in developing a public health strategy

Fresh fears have been raised over the power of the food lobby after Health Minister Anne Milton was forced to disclose a full list of firms helping to make Britain healthier.

Companies such as Unilever and McDonald’s which will be part of the new public health strategy have met directly with government ministers, it emerged.

Top managers at Diageo – the drinks giant – and Kellogg’s have met with government special advisers, while civil servants at the Department of Health have held talks with Nestle and advertising chiefs.

The full list of those involved in the so-called ‘responsibility deal’ was disclosed in response to a parliamentary question from the shadow education minister Sharon Hodgson.

It comes after publication of a controversial public health White Paper earlier this month which advocates targets to reduce fat and salt are set voluntarily by food firms.

The plan was likened by campaigners to ‘putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank’.

The ‘responsibility deal’ will focus on five areas: food, alcohol, exercise, health at work and changing people’s behaviour.

It will be launched next year with the aim of drawing up voluntary agreements on cutting salt in food and giving consumers more information.

The voluntary ‘responsibility deal’ on curbing alcohol abuse is being drawn up with the help of the spirits manufacturer Diageo and Bacardi Brown Forman, the brewing giants SAB Miller, Molson Coors and Heineken, the largest wine company in the world and beer and spirit producer Constellation.

Supermarkets and indusutry lobby groups such as the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, the British Beer and Pub Association and the Portman Group are also involved while liver disease experts and public interest groups will also be consulted.

The network charged with behaviour change and implementing David Cameron’s ideas on ‘nudging’ the public into better public choices instead of regulating on public health includes Tesco, Mars UK, PepsiCo, the Food and Drink Federation and Alliance Boots.

They are joined by the advertising industry lobby groups the Advertising Association and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, and brand consultants Oxford Strategic Marketing, which works for two brewing giants and five of the top ten global food companies.

The Health at Work responsibility deal will work with several processed food giants including Unilever, Mars UK, Nestle, Kellogg’s, pasty makers Ginsters, and caterers Compass, together with drug producers and retailers Novo Nordisk and Alliance Boots.

The deal on physical fitness sees voluntary groups and sports organisations working alongside the fitness industry, Sky and GlaxoSmithKIine.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was criticised in the summer when he announced that firms such as Mars, Cadbury and Coca-Cola would take on a bigger role in funding anti-obesity campaigns.

He said he wanted to free food and drink firms from the ‘burden of regulation’ and would invite them to take on a greater role in public health, while stripping the Food Standards Agnecy of its role to set healthy targets for the industry.

The Children’s Food Campaign group said it was deeply concerned about a ‘corporate takeover of public health policy’.

Co-ordinator Jackie Schneider said ‘We know that the food industry is a very powerful lobbying force that can block progressive public health initiatives such as traffic light labelling and so this coy relationship sets off alarm bells.’

Professor Ian Gilmore, a leading liver specialist and until recently president of the Royal College of Physicians, said he was going to co-operate with the deals.

But he remained doubtful about their contribution to making the public healthier when the ‘priority of the drinks industry was to make money for shareholders while public health demanded a cut in consumption’.

Jeanette Longford of the campaigning group Sustain described the deals as ‘putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank’.

Shadow health secretary John Healey said ‘Andrew Lansley needs to explain clearly the extent of influence of these companies are having on health policy’.

The Department of Health said the responsibility deals were about working with business, industry and the retail sector ‘because their actions affect people’s lifestyle choices’.

A spokesman said ‘The health experts and charities working on the deals play an important role in challenging industry. We firmly believe that collective volunatry efforts can deliver real progress more quickly than regulation, but if this does not work we will consider the case for regulation.’

Son of disgraced financier Bernie Madoff found hanged in his New York apartment on second anniversary of his father’s arrest

Shamed family: Fraudster Bernie Madoff with his wife Ruth and son Mark at a dinner in Long Island in 2001. Mark was found dead at his apartment in Manhattan

Daily Mail | Dec 11, 2010

The son of jailed financier Bernie Madoff was found dead in New York today as his two-year-old son slept in the next room.

Mark Madoff, 46, was found hanging by a dog leash in his SoHo loft apartment on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest.

His body was discovered by his father-in-law, Martin London, at 7.30am this morning.

Mr Madoff’s wife Stephanie, who is in Florida with their other son, four, had raised the alarm after she received a series of disturbing emails from her husband.

Mark and his brother, Andrew, were under investigation but hadn’t faced any criminal charges in the massive Ponzi scheme that led to their father’s jailing.

‘He was found hanged in his apartment. It was an apparent suicide,’ a police spokesman Paul Browne said.

Mark Madoff’s lawyer, Martin Flumenbaum, said: ‘This is a terrible and unnecessary tragedy.

‘Mark was an innocent victim of his father’s monstrous crime who succumbed to two years of unrelenting pressure from false accusations and innuendo.’

Police sources said that Mr Madoff’s wife Stephanie became concerned about her husband after he sent an e-mail to her Friday night or early Saturday morning saying that someone should check on their son who was him in his apartment.

She then asked her father to check on the home, where he found Madoff’s body.

The child was sleeping in a bedroom unharmed and a dog was also found in the apartment.

Bernie Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence after he was found guilty in June 2009 of swindling more than £45bn in the elaborate fraud.

Both Mark and Andrew had worked in senior positions for their father’s securities firm since their twenties and supervised Madoff’s stock-trading desks.

But it was a side of the firm not directly involved in the Ponzi scheme.

The 72-year-old former Wall St. genius was forced to sell his Manhattan and Florida homes as U.S. authorities seized all his assets.

His 67-year-old wife lives in Florida, where she carries out ‘Meals on Wheels’ charity work.

A year ago, the court-appointed trustee trying to unravel Madoff’s financial affairs sued several relatives, including Peter – Bernard’s brother, who played a prominent role in the family’s company – Mark and Andrew, accusing them of failing to detect the fraud while living lavish lifestyles financed with the family’s ill-gotten fortune.

The lawsuit accused Mark Madoff of using $66m he received improperly to buy luxury homes in New York City, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In February, Mark Madoff’s wife petitioned a court to change her last name and the last names of her children, saying her family had received threats and was humiliated by the scandal.

On 11 December 2008, Madoff summoned his sons to his New York penthouse flat to tell them his investment business was ‘one big lie’.

They were devastated. Andrew lay crying on the floor of the kitchen and Mark reacted in fury.

Friends told Vanity Fair magazine that Andrew condemned his father’s ‘biblical’ betrayal. His wife, Deborah, reportedly filed for divorce on the day of her father-in-law’s arrest.

One former Madoff employee, named only as Deborah, said the sons ‘wouldn’t have been able to do what Bernie did: they just didn’t have the evilness in them.’

But she added: ‘If I were to say that Mark and Andy are innocent, I’d get people looking at me like I’m absolutely nuts.’

Mark was said to be obsessed by the scandal, poring endlessly over newspaper and Internet reports.

Twenty-four hours after his father told him what he had done, Mark was said to have missed the office Christmas party and gone home to lay on his bed, fully clothed, without moving for four hours.

After the initial furore died down, he tried unsuccessfully to get a job in trading before starting his own company making applications for iPads.

But the scandal would not go away. Mark recently had been using an email address that does not include his first or last name.

According to the Wall Street Journal, he and his wife Stephanie bought a $6.5m home in Nantucket, Massachusetts in 2008. It is currently for sale.

One of Andrew’s friends, Alexandra Lebenthal, told the magazine that his mood brightened after his father was sent to jail.

‘That was meaningful for him in terms of getting to the next level,’ she said.

She added that Andrew’s priority was to make his daughters understand that ‘just because their grandfather turned out to be one of the worst criminals ever didn’t mean they’re bad people.’

He told friends when his father was jailed that he couldn’t find it in his heart to take pity him.

The magazine claimed the sons cold-shouldered their mother because they believed her tendency to side with her husband, no matter what, enabled his pyramid scheme fraud to succeed for so long.

Madoff wrote to his sons from jail and sent them a gift of a vintage Paul Neman Rolex Daytona, a Piaget and a Cartier Tank watch.

He wrote:‘Dear Mark and Andy, If you can bear to keep these watches, they are given with  my love. If not, give them to someone who might. Love, Dad.’

A trader who was friends with the family said Madoff considered his sons ‘soft’ because he had worked to make his fortune while they had been given everything on a plate.

‘Mark and Andy had never gone against him. They were always trying to please him, and never could,’ he told Vanity Fair.

Mark’s death is not the first following the fraud scandal. A billionaire associate of Madoff was found dead at his Florida mansion.

Jeffry Picower was discovered at the bottom of his swimming pool in Palm Beach – a seaside playground for America’s rich and famous.


Ireland granted immunity to sex abuse church officials under pressure from Vatican, says WikiLeaks

Today a Vatican statement said the WikiLeaks cables should be evaluated with ‘reservations’ and ‘prudence’, and not be taken as an ‘expression’ of the Holy See.

Daily Mail | Dec 11, 2010

By Tamara Cohen

Ireland caved in to Vatican pressure to grant immunity to church officials in the investigation of decades of sex abuse by its clergy, newly released WikiLeaks documents have shown.

Requests made by the Irish government for information ‘offended many in the Vatican’ who believed they had ‘failed to respect and protect Vatican sovereignty during the investigation’.

But even without assistance from Rome the Irish were able to substantiate claims of abuse between 1975 and 2004.

The Vatican also complained that ‘some Irish politicians were making political hay with the situation by calling publicly on the government to demand that the Vatican reply.’

Secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone wrote to them insisting that requests must come down diplomatic channels.

The Irish exerted pressure behind the scenes to get senior officials to testify and senior church officials were sent to Rome to meet the Pontiff.

However, Irish diplomat Helena Keleher said it was understood ‘foreign ambassadors are not required or expected to appear before national commissions’.

The Pope eventually released a statement saying he shared the ‘outrage, betrayal and shame’ of Irish Catholics.

The Irish government wanted to be seen as cooperating with the investigation because its own education department was implicated in decades of abuse, but politicians were reluctant to insist Vatican officials answer the investigators’ questions, the cables indicate.

One cable discloses the behind-the-scenes diplomatic maneuvers during which Irish politicians tried to persuade the Vatican to cooperate with the probe.

Today a Vatican statement said the WikiLeaks cables should be evaluated with ‘reservations’ and ‘prudence’, and not be taken as an ‘expression’ of the Holy See.

The latest WikiLeaks disclosures also revealed that Britain’s ambassador in the Vatican warned that the Pope could provoke anti-Catholic violence in the UK by offering to convert Anglicans who disagreed with women priests.

Francis Campbell was speaking to an American diplomat after Pope Benedict invited disaffected Anglicans to join the Catholic faith in a meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Mr Campbell, a Catholic himself, said the Pope’s scheme had left Britain’s relations with the Vatican ‘facing their worst crisis in 150 years’ and had put Dr Williams ‘in an impossible situation’.

Ambassador Noel Fahey apparently told U.S. diplomat Julieta Valls Noyes that the sex abuse scandal was a tricky one to manage.

Mr Campbell’s comments regarding women priests were also made to Mr Noyes.

The Pope had announced a special dispensation for Anglicans to convert in groups while retaining their own leadership and some of their rites in a body called an Ordinariate. It had been arranged in Rome behind the backs of the English Catholic bishops and Dr Williams was given little warning.

An official Vatican statement described the November 2009 meeting between Dr Williams and the pontiff as cordial, but Mr Campbell said that it was ‘at times awkward’.

At a subsequent dinner held in Dr Williams’s honour and attended by senior Vatican officials, Mr Campbell told Mr Noyes ‘Anglican-Vatican relations were facing their worst crisis in 150 years as a result of the Pope’s decision’, a cable sent to Washington shortly afterwards revealed.

The time period was a reference to the religious unrest caused in 1850 when Pope Pius IX reinstated the Roman Catholic church structure in a bid to re-establish the faith after 300 years of being downtrodden following Henry VIII’s break from Rome.

Mr Campbell said: ‘The crisis is worrisome for England’s small, mostly Irish-origin, Catholic minority. There is still latent anti-Catholicism in some parts of England and it may not take much to set it off.’

He warned: ‘The outcome could be discrimination or in isolated cases, even violence, against this minority.’

The ambassador added that some Vatican officials believed the Pope had been wrong not to consult the archbishop before making the announcement.

The cable continued: ‘The Vatican decision seems to have been aimed primarily at Anglicans in the U.S. and Australia, with little thought given to how it would affect the centre of Anglicanism, England, or the Archbishop of Canterbury.’

Reporting back to Washington, the U.S. diplomat wondered ‘whether the damage to inter-Christian relations was worth it – especially since the number of disaffected Anglicans that will convert is likely to be a trickle rather than a wave’.

Just three of the Church of England’s 114 bishops have since announced they will join the new Ordinariate. It is expected they will be joined by 50 of the church’s 10,000 priests with elements of their congregations.

In a separate conversation, Mr Campbell warned Mr Diaz that if many Anglicans decided to convert, the Catholic church in Britain could find itself financially stretched.

Other cables reveal the Pope wanted Muslim Turkey kept out of the EU and lobbied to keep the idea of ‘Christian roots’ enshrined in its constitution. The WikiLeaks releases also revealed that the Pope had a hand in gaining the release of 15
British sailors held by Iran.

The Royal Navy personnel were held for a fortnight in 2007 after they were captured by the Iranian

Revolutionary Guards while searching a merchant vessel off the Iran-Iraq border.
They were released to mark Easter 13 days later.

A confidential briefing prepared for President Obama ahead of a visit to Rome in 2009 reveals the Pope contacted religious fundamentalists in Tehran.

The documents states: ‘The Vatican helped secure the release of British sailors detained in Iranian waters in April 2007.’

The Vatican press office declined to comment on the content of the cables regarding the Vatican’s influence over Ireland but decried the leaks as a matter of ‘extreme gravity’.

The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See also condemned the leaks and said the Vatican and America cooperate in promoting universal values.

35,000 Deaths Feared in New Arctic Blizzards

Express | Dec 11, 2010

By Sarah Westcott

Experts predict a dramatic increase in cold-related fatalities

DEATH rates are set to soar “scandalously” this winter as a new Arctic blast batters Britain with temperatures on a par with Siberia.

Experts predict a dramatic increase in cold-related fatalities as we suffer the bitterest winter in a century, causing 12 deaths every hour.

Britons face spiralling energy bills while the death toll this winter could reach 35,000.

There are also fears some mail may not reach its destination by Christmas Day because of the freeze.

Forecasters said temperatures could plummet to record lows in the run-up to Christmas, putting tens of thousands of vulnerable people at risk.

Charities warned of pensioners suffering “Dickensian” conditions, resorting to riding on buses or huddling in shopping centres just to keep warm.


Nine pensioners died from cold EVERY HOUR last winter as bill prices soar

Millions of Britons are being forced to turn down their thermostats as gas and electricity prices spiral.

Jonathan Powell, senior forecaster with Positive Weather Solutions, said icy conditions were on the way back by the middle of next week after a brief weekend thaw. He said plummeting temperatures could even surpass the -27.2C (-17F) recorded in Braemar in 1982 – the coldest temperature in Britain.

Studies show a drop in temperature of just one degree is followed by 200 heart attacks. People aged between 75 and 84 and those with a history of heart disease appear to be most vulnerable.

Last year the number of deaths linked to the cold weather reached nearly 28,000 in four months, sparking claims that the UK has the highest winter death rate in northern Europe.

Neil Duncan-Jordan, of the National Pensioners Convention, said: “Rising bills and severe weather are going to put tremendous pressure on older people and we believe last year’s death rate of nine pensioners an hour could go up to 12 every single hour.

“It is a scandal that winter deaths are on the increase.”

Forecasters say bitterly cold winds are expected to return by the start of next week as bookmakers slash the odds for a white Christmas.

Jonathan Powell said the prolonged cold snap would leave Britain “the coldest country in the northern hemisphere” and “on a par with Siberia”. He said: “By next weekend, winds are turning northerly and there will be a true Arctic blast sweeping the country. Snow will fall as far as Bodmin in the South-west.

“The ice will cause substantial chaos through the festive period and bring the UK to a standstill.

“It will be a festive white-out with five to seven inches of snow in the east.”

The Arctic weather is causing Christmas post chaos, with delivery centres piling up with parcels and cards.

In Hull, people without post for 14 days claim Royal Mail told them they could not pick it up themselves because “their mail may not be there”.

EU wastes millions of euros on lavish anti-poverty conference

All participants were invited to a cocktail party with unlimited champagne and expensively catered canapes at the close of the event on Tuesday Photo: PHOTOLIBRARY

The European Commission has been condemned for spending three million euros hosting a lavish anti-poverty development conference for 6,000 people in Brussels.

Telegraph | Dec 10, 2010

by Martin Banks in Brussels

The events, which took place on the sidelines of the “European Development Days” conference in Brussels this week, were branded “an example of classic EU waste.”

The forum hosted a fashion show, a “Fight Poverty” awards ceremony and “Music against Poverty” photo contest.

All participants were invited to a cocktail party with unlimited champagne and expensively catered canapes at the close of the event on Tuesday.

Sian Herbert, of the Open Europe think tank, described the events as a waste of money. She said: “We’re dubious as to how this would help “tackle poverty and meet development goals.”

Marta Andreasen, UKIP MEP said: “This profligate waste of getting 6,000 people to Brussels so they can swan around cocktail receptions and fashion shows is symbolic of the whole area of EU development aid. We are talking about hundreds of millions of pounds here, much of which goes to help very questionable regimes around the world. It is time people asked are these events a waste, do they really help, and above all, can Britain decide to do it better than the EU?”

The two-day conference was described as the largest-ever gathering of its kind with participants including Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, and the Ruandan president Paul Kagame.

French journalism student Morgan Bourven won a competition to attend the conference and writes on his blog:

“As I was sipping coffee and enjoying free cakes while traveling first class -paid with public money- from Paris to Brussels, I wondered: how much are the EDDs (European development days) going to cost?”

His first class train fare and two night stay at the four-star Radisson Blue hotel were paid by the commission

Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development, defended the event, saying it had “helped shape thinking on future EU development policy.” He said,”We are in the process of making a new development policy fit for purpose in the 21st century. Our consultative Green Paper tackles or tries to tackle these challenges. Support for our Green Paper seemed quite clear during the panel discussions, from both developed and developing countries, NGOs and foundations. This gives me great encouragement going forward.”

The EU, along with its 27 member countries, is the world’s biggest aid donor, spending £41 billion.

Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, warned this week that Britain was ready to withhold hundreds of millions of pounds from EU international aid programmes if it does not tackle waste.

German troops stationed in France for first time since Second World War

German General Werner Freers (R) is offered the flag of the squadron during a ceremony to mark the installation of the German 291st fighter squadron in Strasbourg Photo: REUTERS

A battalion of German combat troops is to be officially stationed in eastern France on Friday for the first time since Nazi forces ended the Reich’s occupation at the end of the Second World War.

Telegraph | Dec 10, 2010

The battalion, part of the joint Franco-German Brigade, will be stationed at Illkirch-Graffenstaden outside Strasbourg, near the German border, and will eventually consist of 600 soldiers.

The historic move, aimed at cementing friendship between the neighbours who fought three devastating wars in 140 years, was agreed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a Munich summit in 2009.

A ceremony to mark the event on Friday is to be attended by French Defence Minister Alain Juppe and his German counterpart Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.

German soldiers have been arriving at the base since April and took part in November 11 Armistice Day commemorations alongside their French counterparts for the first time.

Two French regiments within the Franco-German Brigade, which became operational in 1989 and consists of around 5,400 troops, are stationed in southwestern Germany, at Donaueschingen and Immendingen.

The German battalion is to be stationed in Alsace, a region that changed hands several times between Germany and France between 1871 and 1945.

8 million British hit by higher heating bills as coldest December in century predicted

An estimated 8 million consumers will be hit by higher energy bills today, as the Met Office predicts Britain could be on course for the coldest winter in a century.

Telegraph | Dec 10, 2010

By Harry Wallop, Martin Evans and Andrew Hough

British Gas will today become the third of the major six suppliers to raise its prices, adding £80 to the annual bill for the average household, pushing it from £1,157 to £1,237.

It is the largest gas supplier in the country with 8 million customers.

Added to these higher bills, The AA motoring group gave warning that petrol prices were set to hit an all-time high by the end of this week because of the cold, beating the previous record of 121.61p for a litre of unleaded petrol.

Consumer groups said they were concerned that consumers were being hit with higher bills at precisely the time they needed to turn up their thermostat, as Britain struggled with the coldest December since 1981.

One expert predicted many households would be hit a record monthly bill because so many would use more gas during December to heat their homes.

Parts of northern England and central Scotland have seen lows of (0F) -18C while the mercury has continued to drop in the south this week. But apart from a brief respite over the coming weekend, when temperatures are expected to climb slightly, the cold snap is likely to continue throughout Christmas and well into January, the Met Office warned yesterday.

The weather forecasters have suggested that if the temperature continues at this low level for the rest of the year, this December could replace 1981 as the coldest December since records began in 1910.

Audrey Gallacher, head of energy at Consumer Focus, the Government-funded gas and electricity watchdog, said: “This is a real double blow for consumers to be landed with energy bills close to a historic high, when the temperature is close to a historic low.

“Our real concern is that many householders, especially vulnerable ones, are too frightened to turn up their thermostats and keep their house warm this winter.”

The latest price rise by British Gas follows similar rises by Scottish Power and Scottish and Southern Energy, both of which put up their tariffs at the end of November. This means that more than 14 million of Britain’s 26 million households have been hit with higher bills this winter.

The current average annual household energy bill – including gas and electricity – is as a result £1,228. This is slightly lower than the record it hit during January 2009 when they reached an all-time high of £1,293, but nearly double what they were five years ago.

The fear is that even though gas tariffs are below their record high, consumers could end up paying more than they have done before in a single month because the extended period of cold weather.

Mark Todd, the co-founder of Energyhelpline, a price comparison site, calculated that the average household will see its December gas bill jump by 47 per cent from £108 to £159 if the cold weather continues to the end of the year, because consumers are using more gas to keep their homes warm.

He said: “It really doesn’t look good that bills are going up during the freezing weather while the energy companies make decent profits.”

Last month Ofgem, the industry regulator, launched an investigation into the major gas and electricity suppliers, after it calculated that companies were making £90 per profit from each customer on an annual basis, a jump of 38 per cent over the last three months. It said it wanted to check if firms were “being straight” with its customers.

Energy companies, under new rules, now have to give 30 days’ notice before they increase customers’ bills. But he said he expected e.on and Npower to increase their bills in the New Year. EDF has promised not to increase bills until at least March.

Mr Todd added: “Wholesale gas prices have jumped 15 per cent in the last two weeks. It seals the likelihood of the remaining suppliers putting up their prices. The market is moving against consumers.”

Drivers are also being hit by higher oil prices and cold weather forcing up the price of petrol.

The AA predicted last night that the record price for petrol of 121.61p, hit in May this year, will be broken by the end of the week, as poor weather has hit petrol supplies.

Edmund King, the AA’s president, said: “It comes at a particularly bad time for drivers who have struggled with appalling winter weather and often seen their fuel drain away while stuck in snowbound traffic jams,” said

“Although the wholesale price of petrol has risen sharply in the past fortnight, there is a growing feeling of helplessness among drivers with winter travel disruption and ever-rising fuel costs.”

The cold weather and snow at the end of November and start of December was initially expected to be no more than an unseasonal cold-snap, with many long-range weather forecasters predicting a warm winter.

However, Helen Chivers from the Met Office said yesterday: “Temperatures are likely to remain low for at least another 30 days. Daytime temperatures may only reach as 37F (3C) to 41F (5C) and at night we will see the average well below zero in many parts.

“At this stage it is difficult to say whether they will be significant snowfall but the temperature will certainly be cold enough.

“The average temperatures for this time of year could be expected to be as high as 48F (9C) in places like London and 45F (7C) in Scotland so the figures are well down on what is usual.”

In Scotland, where heavy snow has brought chaos, the armed forces have been drafted in to help with the clear up. Two hundred soldiers from the Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland cleared snow and ice from roads and pavements around Edinburgh.

Teams of offenders on community service more used to removing graffiti have been redirected to snow clearing duties.

All the energy companies that have increased their bills this winter have blamed sharp rises in the wholesale price of gas and electricity for why they have needed to put up their bills. Though, consumer campaigners have pointed out that bills only fell 10 per cent during 2009, even though wholesale prices fell about 40 per cent.

Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch.com, a price comparison site, said: “These hikes are not only hitting customers in the winter when energy usage is at a high, but are also hitting our bills during a particularly severe cold snap.

“This double whammy means that many households will find themselves turning the heating down or even off. In this cold weather it is simply unacceptable that energy prices could be forcing people to compromise on their wellbeing in this way.”

Ms Gallacher at Consumer Focus urged worried customers to contact their suppliers to ensure they were on the best possible deal and to ask whether they were entitled to an assistance package, which all suppliers offer to vulnerable customers.